Reforming D.C.’s constituent service funds

August 24, 2011

Evans, with bobblehead (not paid for with constituent service funds). (ROXANNE ROBERTS/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Under city regulations, such funds “shall encompass any activity or program which provides charitable, scientific, educational, medical, recreational or other services to the residents of the District of Columbia, and promotes their general welfare.” In other words, there’s loopholes in there wide enough to drive several luxury SUVs through.

There are dual concerns with these finds — first, that they could represent another locus for solicitations of political influence by city contractors or lobbyists, and second, that the spending could be used primarily for the officeholder’s political benefit rather than the public’s “general welfare.”

Yesterday, I asked D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D), sponsor of a package of ethics reforms, about what he thinks constituent service funds should be used for. His response:

You’re looking at funeral services, looking at grandmothers that are about to be evicted out of their homes. You look at people in the summertime, and it’s hot and their air condition goes out for our seniors, or it’s cold and the heat goes off. You know, those are some items. Or if you are providing constituents with information as it relates to what’s going on in the government and what’s going on in your office and providing them information that’s needed. Back-to-school time is a time you use constituent service funds for. You buy book bags and stuff like that.

Brown agrees that the council needs to “better define what you can and what you cannot do” with a constituent services funds. “Those are things that are on the table, and we’re looking at” as a part of a broader ethics reform effort, he said — including, perhaps, adding new prohibitions on lobbyists or city contractors from donating.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.
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